Planning to visit majestic Mount Rainier soon? A little research before your trip will help you avoid the crowds, see the best sights, and enjoy the nicest weather.
Mount Rainier offers all sorts of recreational activities, from hiking and camping to mushroom foraging! Plus, the views are stunning. Knowing the best time to go will help ensure you get to enjoy the activities you love most.
We’ll show you the best time to visit Mount Rainier for your goals — whether you want dry weather, fewer crowds, or free entry. Plus, we’ll explain the worst time to visit this active volcano and provide plenty of travel tips to help make your visit a success.
Why You Should Visit Mount Rainier
A visit to Mt. Rainier offers majestic mountain views complete with crystal clear alpine lakes, remarkable waterfalls, and towering peaks. Standing 14,410 feet above sea level, this active volcano features the most glaciated peak in North America.
And there are over 260 miles of well-maintained trails allowing you to explore it. Whether you’re an experienced mountaineer or prefer a mild mountain stroll, Mt. Rainier National Park has trails that will wow you.
It also offers secluded campsites and plenty of other things to do regardless of the season, including:
- Horseback riding
- Mountain biking
The expansive national park also offers unique activities for those who want to experience the rare and exciting, including elk bugling tours and mushroom foraging walks. And for those who want to enjoy the views without a hike, the Mt. Rainier gondola is perfect.
It takes guests up 2,400 vertical feet, where they can take in exceptional panoramas of the mountain peak. In other words, there are many reasons why you should visit Mt. Rainier National Park, but they all boil down to this: Mt. Rainier offers something for everyone.
From short and relaxing trails to challenging summit quests, if you want to be awed by natural beauty, Mt. Rainier is where you should head.
Overall Best Time to Visit Mt. Rainier
Most Mt. Rainier fans will tell you that visiting anytime from mid-summer to early fall is ideal.
At that point of the year, the weather is warm enough to ensure all or most park roads and trails will be open. You’re no longer dealing with heavy snow or extreme cold.
However, if you want to experience Mt. Rainier at its absolute best, consider planning your trip in late July or early August. For a few short weeks in mid to late summer, Mt. Rainier bursts into color as the wildflowers bloom.
Pink, yellow, purple, and blue petals coat the mountainside as the final snowy patches melt away, creating a stunning landscape. July and August also offer the warmest and driest weather, with highs in the mid-sixties or low seventies and less than two inches of rain on average.
On top of that, the best wildflower meadows are near the Sunrise and Paradise entrances, both exceptionally easy to access from the Seattle area.
Of course, nice weather, gorgeous blooms, and easy access also draw in the biggest crowds. So, you’ll want to arrive early, before ten am. And you should check the park’s Twitter page for congestion updates.
Cheapest Time to Visit Mt. Rainier
Visiting Mt. Rainier is relatively inexpensive, regardless of when you decide to go. The entrance fees range from $15 for a bicycle entry to $55 for an annual pass.
Most people will need to pay a single vehicle fee, which admits the vehicle and all passengers for $30. That said, there are a few days each year that Mt. Rainier National Park waives all entry fees.
Meaning you can enter the park for free. These days include:
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday
- The first day of National Park Week (Mid-April)
- National Public Lands Day (Late September)
- Veteran’s Day
If you’re factoring in a flight to Seattle-Tacoma airport and a city hotel stay when planning your trip, the cheapest time of year to visit is off-season, in early spring or late fall. Summer flights and hotel stays in Seattle are particularly expensive.
Least Busy Time to Visit Mt. Rainier
Crowds are a problem at Mt. Rainier National Park, especially during peak season. However, you can avoid them by planning your trip appropriately.
Aiming for a mid-week visit, arriving before ten am or after two pm, and picking a park entrance that’s a little less popular, can help ensure you avoid the rush, even during the wildflower bloom.
If you want to experience Mt. Rainier without the throngs of other people, consider visiting in early fall or early winter. In early fall, there will be frost and a chance of snow, but it’s also beautiful.
The colors are changing, and fewer vehicles mean better conditions for bicycling. Early winter may require extra warm clothes and a high tolerance for snow.
But it also offers the chance to enjoy unique recreational activities. For example, you could take a ranger-led snowshoe tour, explore the grounds on a snowmobile, or opt for a day of snow fun at the Paradise sledding area.
Worst Time to Visit Mt. Rainier
The worst time to visit Mt. Rainier is in early spring, particularly April, or late fall, particularly November.
You might think that a springtime visit would let you beat the crowds and enjoy the sights, but there’s a reason the masses have yet to arrive. Spring in Mt. Rainier is cold and wet.
It’s not uncommon for there to be enough snow to keep the sledding area open through March, and in April, there are often still snowy spots. Highs in spring are in the forties or early fifties, but it still drops below freezing most nights.
And it rains a lot. April sees upwards of 8 inches of rain on average. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the twenty inches the park typically sees in November.
November is arguably the worst month because it usually rains non-stop. Mt. Rainier is surrounded by clouds most of the time, and catching a glimpse of the awe-inspiring peak is unlikely.
Things to Consider
You know the best time to visit Mount Rainier, but that’s only the tip of the glacier when it comes to planning a stellar trip. Below we discuss the other things you should consider before planning your Rainier vacation.
- Parking is limited. Finding a space on summer weekends in the Paradise and Sunrise parking lots can be hard. Both lots fill up by mid-morning when the weather is nice. Paradise has an overflow lot, but it’s a long uphill walk to the visitor center. Sunrise holds waiting cars at the gate and slowly meters them in as others depart.
- Accessibility may be an issue. Much of Mount Rainier’s amenities, such as visitor centers and cafes were built before accessibility laws existed. So, unlike some other national parks, there aren’t many areas of Mt. Rainier that are accessible to wheelchairs.
- Consider pre-purchasing your entrance pass. You can purchase your entrance pass at the park gate, but it takes extra time and backs up traffic. National park staff recommend pre-purchasing your pass for faster entry. You can purchase a daily pass or annual pass online at recreation.gov.
- Consider which entrance suits your trip best. Mount Rainier National Park has five entries, each leading to different areas. You can only access certain trails by entering the right entrance, so it’s crucial to know which gate you want to use before you arrive.
- Don’t rely on GPS navigation. Your phone will probably route you to the nearest gate, which may or may not be the gate you want to enter. Plus, cell reception is spotty at best. Before you head to the park, check the official Mount Rainier directions page and invest in a few paper road maps.
- Have an alternate destination during peak seasons. Sunrise and Paradise are the most popular entrances because they’re easiest to get to from Seattle. However, their parking lots fill up quickly during peak season. Consider having an alternate destination in mind, like Carbon River or Ohanapecosh.
- Mt. Rainier National Park is not pet friendly. Pets are not allowed on trails, in visitor buildings, or in park waters. So, even though the family dog might love the great outdoors, you’re better off not bringing him. Whether you’re camping, day hiking, or picnicking, your dog will do better at home.
- Driving through the park is slow. The speed limit throughout the park is 35 miles per hour, but navigating the park roads can take more time than you expect. The roads are winding, littered with blind turns and steep ascents. Plus, there’s always the potential for wildlife. You have to watch for deer, bears, and other local fauna in the roadway.
- Plan ahead for weather changes. Mount Rainier is at a high elevation, and weather can change quickly. Even in summer, sunny days can swiftly shift to clouds and freezing rain. Dress in layers and have coats handy!
- Food and beverage amenities are limited. Some visitor centers have cafes and pre-packaged food, but food and beverage are limited overall—plan to bring food with you into the park.
Frequently Asked Questions
Figuring out the best time to visit Mount Rainier is only the beginning of your travel plans. Making this trip comes with a lot of questions. Below, we answer a few of the most common ones:
How much does it cost to go up Mt. Rainier?
There are two fees to consider if you plan on summiting Mount Rainier. First, there’s the park entry fee. Entry fees break down as follows:
- Single vehicle: $30
- Bicycle entry: $15
- Motorcycle: $25
- Camping: $20
If you want to climb to the peak, you’ll also need to pay the national annual climbing fee. Currently, the fee is $37 for those twenty-five or younger and $53 for those over twenty-five.
Is Mt. Rainier worth the trip?
Yes, visiting Mt. Rainier is worth it! The hiking is incredible, the sights are stunning, and there are recreational opportunities for all skill levels.
So whether you’re taking the family on a gentle 1.5-mile hike through the Grove of the Patriarchs or considering something more challenging, Mount Rainier has something for everybody.
How many days do you need in Mt. Rainier?
Visiting Mt. Rainier for a day is fantastic, but if you want to experience all the park has to offer, going for three days or more is ideal.
Within three days, you can spend one viewing the subalpine meadows at Paradise. Then, you can head to Sunrise for phenomenal peak panoramas. Finally, we recommend checking out the temperate rainforest at Carbon River on day three.
Is Mt. Rainier a day trip from Seattle?
Yes, visiting Mount Rainier can be a day trip from Seattle. It takes about two to two and a half hours to reach the Paradise entrance from downtown.
If you leave early, at around 7 am, you can reach the park before the lot fills, even in summer. Then you can enjoy a day of hikes and views before heading back to the city for dinner.
Which is better, Mt. Rainier or Olympic National Park?
Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park offer different things. To say one is better than the other would be entirely subjective; each has its strengths. Mt. Rainier National Park offers striking views of an active volcano, incredible hikes, and numerous other recreational activities.
Perhaps the park’s biggest strength is its proximity to Seattle. If you’re visiting the city, you can easily include Mt. Rainier in the itinerary. Olympic National Park is a little further away.
Depending on your route, you’re looking at a minimum of three hours of driving plus a ferry ride. That said, the Olympic National Park offers a little bit of everything.
There are stunning rainforests to explore, picturesque beaches to wander, and amazing lakes to check out. In our opinion, both parks are worth visiting, but if you’re heading to Seattle, Mount Rainier may be easier to include in the plan.
Which side of Mt. Rainier is better?
Most people feel that the south side of Mount Rainier is the best place to visit. This includes the Paradise entrance. The south side offers majestic views, wildflower-flecked meadows, and plenty of trails and picnic areas. It’s also easy to get to from downtown Seattle.
Where do you fly to go to Mt. Rainier?
If you want to visit Mount Rainier from out-of-state, you’ll want to fly into the Seattle-Tacoma airport. The distance from the airport to Ashford.
This city sits just outside the park’s Nisqually entrance, is only 84 miles. You could also fly into Portland, but the drive is substantially longer at 131 miles.
Are there grizzly bears in Mt. Rainier?
There aren’t Grizzly bears in Mount Rainier National Park, but there is a large black bear population. Black bears rarely attack humans, but they’re still dangerous, and there’s no shortage of human-bear encounters at Mount Rainier.
Always practice wildlife safety within the park. For example, never approach or feed black bears and back away slowly if you see one along a trail.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Mount Rainier?
The best time to visit Mount Rainier is in July or August if you want warmer, drier weather and hope to see the renowned wildflower bloom. However, visiting during off months has its perks too! The truth is Mount Rainier is worth a visit regardless of the time of year. Happy travels!